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Photographer uses old-school methods for fresh look at state

Nancy J. Smith finds niche market for scenic calendars


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF NANCY J. SMITH - A photo from John Day Fossil Beds National Monuments Painted Hills area was part of 2012 calendar by Nancy J. Smith, an award-winning calendar maker from Gresham.The technological revolution happened many years ago in professional photography. Out went film and slides and in came digital, and even the die-hard photographers went the way of the future. Except Nancy J. Smith. Not yet, anyway.

"I still shoot (slow-speed) slides and film," says Smith, an East Multnomah County/Gresham resident her entire life and producer of one of the finest calendars in the country for 23 years. "I'm still shooting the same equipment (Canon). And the only thing I use (for enhancement) is a polarizing filter. I use only natural light.

"Eventually, I'm going to have to go to digital ... which has got to the point where it's real nice quality. But, I'm also trying to preserve film photography. It's worked."

Indeed, it has worked for Smith, who has won five national awards for her calendars, called "The Majestic Pacific Northwest." Winning calendar contests is a big deal, because big-time photographers and firms usually enter them. In 2013, she won the National and World Calendar Award against entries from the likes of the National Geographic Society, Utah Office of Tourism, Road & Track magazine, Arizona Highways, and Mutual of Omaha Insurance.

Smith scouts locations, tirelessly shoots photos, edits them and self-publishes (and prints locally). That's why it's a big deal. "I've been enormously humbled to compete with giants," she says. She entered calendar competitions for the first time in 1996 and has won four national awards of merit from the Calendar Marketing Association.

Awards are one thing, making money another, but pure enjoyment from the process of producing the calendar — especially the scouting and nature part — drive Smith.

"The biggest thing that inspired me was the beauty of nature," she says, "wanting to capture that and share with other people. We have such beautiful scenery here. I've been camping and going out in the woods since I was a little girl, and I'm always amazed how beautiful it is. I'm a modern-day explorer, I'm always venturing off the beaten path in search of extraordinary images.

"So many people don't have time to go out, or can't go out. ... I can bring joy to a lot of people through this. I send them all over the world."

A great many individuals produce calendars throughout the United States, including the region and state. Smith sells at places from Powell's City of Books and New Seasons to Timberline Lodge to Seattle and, of course, on Amazon.com and nancyjsmith.com.

"I have developed a niche market," she adds. "There is the upper image of something scenic and then information about the place; on the grid, I'll have an inset photo and extensive text of wildlife, plants, etc. People love that part of my calendar ... instead of doing 12 pretty pictures."

But, it's more than about business; it's about a person going out into the wild and experiencing greatness. Smith can remember many days sitting in the woods and waiting for the right moment to take a snap of Mount Hood and other places, watching weather develop, the sky change, "the magical time" — "I've become a weather person," she says.

In the 2014 calendar, the August photo of North Cascades National Park in Washington, the "American Alps" east of Bellingham, offers the beautful juxtaposition of rugged mountain peaks and flowers on the hillside — "it's like you were in the 'Sound of Music' movie," she says. "In a hiking book, it says hikers have been known to break into song."

A most memorable experience was shooting photos at Mount Bachelor after a wind and ice storm left unique ice formations at the top. She remembers one of her first memorable photos after she took up the profession 24 years ago. "Wispy Mt. Hood, an aerial shot," she says. Other than "Wispy Mt. Hood," her favorite shot of our closest peak was called "As Evening Comes" when bad weather forced to her to shoot from a ridge on the south side.

Another favorite spot is Mount Jefferson, where she has been hiking and camping since she was 3.

The 2015 calendar, now on sale, features Mount Baker in January to Mount Rainier in July to a Ponderosa pine in December.

Each year is challenging, she says, even with such beauty in her backyard, like Mount Hood.

"People have commented about my calendar being real about what's happening at that time of year," she says. "I spend a lot of time, painstakingly. ... You'd think after 23 years it'd be easy. But, it's my baby. ...

"Each photo represents a story unto itself."